One of things I was most eager to test on the Xbox One was the ability to purchase, download and install games—even new, AAA titles—directly on the console. And sure enough, it works, with caveats. But it's still the preferable option.
Note: There are issues related to game downloads, such as disc-based game purchases and game sharing, that I will discuss in future articles. This one addresses game downloads only.
The dream is simple enough: The new console arrives, you connect it to the Internet, browse the Store, and start downloading. In minutes, presumably, you're up and running.
Here's how it really works. The new console arrives, you connect it to the Internet, browse the Store, and start downloading. And then you wait.
And wait, and wait.
How long you wait will vary according to your Internet connection and the game(s) you download. The thing is, most of the first-gen Xbox One games are huge, in the 30-40 GB range. But some are more sophisticated than others. I'm still testing, but of the three games I've purchased (and downloaded and installed) through the console, I've seen some glacial download times.
"Call of Duty: Ghosts" and "Battlefield 4" are the least sophisticated of the games I've purchased, which makes sense as they are both multiplatform titles with legacy technologies. I wasn't able to accurately measure the download speeds, as I had to give up both and let them finish overnight. (On separate nights.) I will say this, though: I downloaded "Ghosts" on the PS4 the previous weekend and while that download was also glacial, it did at least ask me if I wanted to get single- or multiplayer first. The Xbox One version did not offer this nicety.
Understanding that these games were perhaps an unfair measure, I then turned to "Ryse: Son of Rome," which is an Xbox One exclusive title. As expected, it was more sophisticated. But an early promising moment proved disappointing nonetheless: At 3 percent downloaded, the Download tile in the Store changed to "Play," and I briefly figured that the game would work like a streaming video download. Nope.
Instead, the only thing that worked in the game was the Settings interface. The single- and multiplayer experiences would "launch" but then show a basically blank "Installing" screen with a progress bar. Based on a bit of back and forth, I determined that single player would finish first so I sat on that to measure the progress.
I have a 50 Mbps fiber connection through FIOS. 21 minutes after I triggered the "Ryse" download, I was able to start playing the single player experience. 33 minutes after the start, I was able to start multiplayer. I didn't really get into either because I wanted to measure the full download time, but in interacting with people on Twitter, I discovered that some had started playing the single player game and run into invisible walls here and there because the game was still downloading. Kind of like a video stream can buffer from time to time, I guess.
Is this better than waiting for the full game to download? Yes it is. Absolutely it is.
I don't know about you, but the last time I had to regularly wait for a download to complete overnight I was using a dial-up modem. So this staged download type offered by the Xbox One is definitely preferable and will no doubt get even better as developers start writing their titles to take advantage of this. One can easily imagine a game downloading in discrete chunks—single player levels, multiplayer maps, whatever—and offering a much more seamless experience.
As for Ryse, the full game download took a very long 2 hours.
But the important thing to note here is that this download time is in many ways unimportant. I only noticed it because I was watching. Most people would simply start playing the game at some point. And it would just work.
And really, what's the alternative? Thanks to prerelease whining, those who purchase disc-based must now insert those discs into the console before they can play the game. That is completely unacceptable, and it makes the digital download option, though ponderously slow for now, the far more compelling game acquisition choice, in my opinion.
I'll have more on game discs and game sharing soon.